From The Diaries of Beatrice Webb (1898) – 2

The Webbs go on to observe the political leaders of NSW, who would both become Prime Ministers of Australia:

October 9

Thursday: We had Archibald, Editor of the Bulletin, to lunch; Sidney lectured to a select audience on Municipal Government in England: an excellent lecture which though not touching on the municipal affairs of Sydney was felt every word of it to be apposite. Pompous old Sir George Dibbs was there and as I rose in response to the Chairman’s request for a few words, he whispered loudly, “No socialism, no radicalism please.” So I gave them chaff: much to the delight of the more advanced portion of the audience. Then we adjourned to the House just in time to hear the last paragraphs of Barton’s speech and the whole of Reid’s reply on the vote of censure – neither the one nor the other was impressive. Saturday we spent the whole day with Ashton and Reid, cruising about the waters of the National Park pretending to fish. Reid was in his holiday humour: that is to say he was always dropping off to sleep, in between telling and chuckling over some little details of his parliamentary manipulation. He has no intellectual interest in political questions: no desire to lead the country in one direction or another; but if you accept this absence of intellectual or moral distinction, he is good company with his humour, shrewdness and kind-heartedness. Moreover, one cannot fail to respect his financial integrity and rough and ready desire for efficient government.

 

George Reid, c. 1905 (National Library of Australia)

George Reid, c. 1905 (National Library of Australia)

To-day we have had Barton, the leader of the Opposition, to lunch. He has the face of an actor or preacher, he is a cultured man and appreciates an intellectual point. Perhaps he is more anxious than Reid to make things go in the direction he believes to be right. He hardly looks capable of a hard day’s work, certainly not of years of persistent labour. And outside Federation he seems to have few political ideas: he has neither Reid’s shrewd knowledge of human nature nor his unselfconsciousness, nor his persistency, nor his skill as a professional politician. Barton strikes us as an amateur uncertain of the worth-whileness of his hobby; he is perpetually asking himself whether he wishes to remain in politics. He likens Reid in only one respect: he looks as if he chronically over-ate himself; but even here Reid has the advantage in being jovial over it instead of dyspeptic. When Reid is replete he nods off to sleep; when Barton has eaten more than he can digest I am convinced that he is irritable.

–Beatrice Webb, English, 1858-1943

Edmund Barton, 1903 (National Library of Australia)

Edmund Barton, 1903 (National Library of Australia)

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From The Diaries of Beatrice Webb (1898) – 1

Fabian Society members Sidney and Beatrice Webb visited Australia in 1898. By and large, they were not impressed:

October 5

A long conversation with the intelligent principal shopman in the largest bookstore in Sydney (the proprietor, by the way, a man of 35 or so, was standing at the door at 5 p.m. considerably “in liquor”). The shopman was a refined and rather depressed man of literary tastes. He said there was no sale for anything but cheap novels, supplied from England in Colonial editions at from sixpence to half a crown. The rich people bought little or nothing else, and many purchased nothing more literary than the weekly editions of the newspapers (the Australasian and the Sydney Mail chiefly). A newly enriched man had lately given them an order for £100 of books, all light literature, principally cheap novels. There had been something of a boom in cheap sociology eight years ago, but that had quite died out. But the young Australian writers – Lawson, Paterson, Daley – were now selling well and he still sold about a thousand copies a year of Gordon’s poems, which were known to every bushman. He attributed this popularity to Gordon’s reputation as the best and most fearless rider ever known in Australia, and to his poems dealing with horseracing. There had been a little set of bookbuyers in Melbourne, but this had died out. Australia had one great and wealthy collector – Mr Mitchell of Sydney – who collected every scrap relating to Australia – old newspapers, pamphlets etc. He complained that English newspapers or publishers would not accept Australian MSS – his wife wrote, and he had tried to place both her and others’ MSS in England in vain. The Australian public would not buy Australian productions until these had the English approval; Rolf Boldrewood himself could not sell his works until Bentley had brought out Robbery Under Arms.

The Bulletin, he said, had really been “made” by a dissolute but very clever Frenchman named Argles, who wrote the dramatic criticism, and originated the present characteristic style of the whole paper. But Argles worked through Archibald the principal editor, on whom he had a great influence until his (Argles) death from consumption. Now Archibald had gathered round him a brilliant staff of young Bohemians.

Beatrice Webb, c.1875 (London School of Economics)

Beatrice Webb, c.1875 (London School of Economics)

October 7

Dined at the Women’s College. A refined and intelligent Scotch woman (a graduate of London University) Miss Macdonell [sic] is the Principal, and has gathered from all parts of New South Wales and Queensland, 14 students. Like the rest of the University the Women’s College is depressed; is, in fact, struggling into life in spite of the steady indifference, if not hostility, of Australian Society. “Let the women keep to the kitchen” said a wealthy man who was asked for a subscription; and he fairly represented Australian opinion. And yet the cooking is so bad! As far as one can make out, the Australian girls spend their time in making their own clothes, except when they are wearing them in the company of young men. The clothes are fresh and flashy: powder and paint ruin complexions and the women age rapidly. The women of Australia are not her finest product.

–Beatrice Webb, English, 1858-1943